Saturday, July 13, 2019

Binnington avoids arbitration, signs two-year contract

Goalie to make $4.4 million AAV on bridge deal after 
helping lead Blues to first Stanley Cup in franchise history 

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- On Friday, Jordan Binnington was celebrating his day with the Stanley Cup. On Saturday, he was celebrating a new contract.

And one helluva raise.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jordan Binnington celebrates with the Stanley Cup
after helping the Blues win their first in franchise
history on June 12 against the Boston Bruins.
A restricted free agent with arbitration rights, Binnington avoided a July 20 hearing by agreeing to a two-year, $8.8 million contract ($4.4 million average annual value).

"I'm happy to get this deal done with the St. Louis Blues," Binnington said on the team's website. "To the city of St. Louis, thank you for welcoming me in and trusting me to do me. I'm excited and motivated to keep doing my job and keep bringing success to the St. Louis Blues organization."

A third-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, Binnington burst onto the scene for the Blues when he made his first NHL start on Jan. 7 and earned a 25-save shutout in a 3-0 win at the Philadelphia Flyers and soared from there, helping the Blues to their first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.

Binnington went 24-5-1 in the regular season with a 1.89 goals-against average, a .927 save-percentage and five shutouts and was a candidate for the Calder Trophy.

In 26 playoff games, Binnington went 16-10 with a 2.46 GAA, a .914 save-percentage and one shutout; he also became the first rookie goaltender in NHL history to record 16 wins in a single postseason, passing the previous record of 15 set by four goaltenders Patrick Roy of the Montreal Canadiens, Ron Hextall of the Philadelphia Flyers, Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Thus avoiding arbitration, Binnington signs a two-year bridge contract and can become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season. It's a contract that gives both sides the time to evaluate and in essence is a prove-it type of deal over an extended period.

Binnington made just $650,000 on a two-way contract last season that paid him $100,000 in the minors and earned himself a nice pay raise after winning the Cup. On Friday, he was in his hometown of Richmond Hill, Ontario celebrating his day with the Cup.

"We are pleased to have Jordan signed for two more years," added Blues general manager Doug Armstrong also said on the team website. "His play was outstanding and we look forward to seeing him continue to be a major contributor for our team."

With Binnington signed, he joins Robby Fabbri (one year, $900,000 signed Friday), Zach Sanford (two-year, $1.5 million AAV signed July 8) and Sammy Blais (one year, $850,000 signed July 1) as RFA's that have signed the free agency period opened. It leaves a little more than $7.1 million in cap space remaining with 22 players under contract. The Blues still need to sign defenseman Joel Edmundson, forwards Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev and goalie Ville Husso, but there will be some money alleviated with players dropping off the current roster once these players are signed, so in essence, if the Blues were to drop Mackenzie MacEachern ($750,000), Jordan Schmaltz ($700,000) and Derrick Pouliot ($700,000) off the current roster, that money will be added to the cap.

Defenseman Mitch Reinke signed his RFA deal on Friday, a one-year, two-way contract that will pay him $750,000 NHL, $100,000 AHL. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Fabbri latest RFA to sign contract

Forward inks one-year, $900,000 deal after returning from two torn left 
ACL's, joins Blais, Sanford as signed players; Blues trade for forward

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are slowly working out deals for their plethora of restricted free agents, and Robby Fabbri's one-year, $900,000 is the third signing since July 1.
Robby Fabbri

Fabbri's contract was announced Friday afternoon, and he joins Zach Sanford (two years, $1.5 million AAV in avoiding arbitration) and Sammy Blais (one year, $850,000).

The Blues are left to sign forwards Ivan Barbashev and Oskar Sundqvist, defenseman Joel Edmundson and goalie Jordan Binnington among their regulars. Binnington (July 20), Sundqvist (July 24) and Edmundson (Aug. 4) all have arbitration hearing dates scheduled should should the Blues and the respective players not come to an agreement by their dates. Goalie Ville Husso (team-elected arbitration on July 22) and defenseman Mitch Reinke are also RFA's.

Fabbri, 23, is coming off a challenging season, frequently being a healthy scratch for long stretches of the season, after missing all of 2017-18 and the final 31 games of the previous season stemming from two torn ACL's in his left knee. Fabbri initially injured his knee Feb. 4, 2017 against Pittsburgh and re-injured the same knee during training camp despite playing in one preseason game at Washington before the 2017-18 season. Both injuries required surgery.

In 32 regular-season games last season, Fabbri had just two goals and four assists, and in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he scored a goal in 10 games (Game 1 against the Dallas Stars in the second round) to help the Blues to their first championship in franchise history.

In 155 NHL games, Fabbri, who is coming off a one-year contract that paid him $925,000, has 72 points (31 goals, 41 assists) spanning three seasons; he has 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 30 playoff games.

* Blues acquire forward -- The Blues also announced they've acquired forward Dakota Joshua from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for future considerations, and Joshua has signed a two-year, entry-level contract.

“Dakota has had an outstanding college career and we are excited to be adding him to our team,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said in a statement.


Joshua, 23, has spent the past four seasons at Ohio State University. Last season, Joshua had 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 32 regular-season games helping the Buckeyes win the Big 10 regular season championship. 

Listed as 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, the Dearborn, Michigan, native had 100 points (41 goals, 59 assists) in 128 regular-season collegiate games.

Joshua was originally drafted by the Maple Leafs in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Sanford avoids arbitration, signs two-year contract

One of four players who was arbitration-eligible will make $1.5 million annually

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Chop another restricted free agent off Blues general manager Doug Armstrong's to-sign list this summer.

Zach Sanford
And in the process of signing restricted free agent Zach Sanford to a two-year, one-way contract worth $1.5 million per season, the Blues also eliminate 25 percent of their remaining players that filed for arbitration.

Sanford became the second RFA to sign after Sammy Blais signed a one-year, one-way contract for $850,000 on July 1.

Sanford, who is coming off a three-year entry-level contract that paid him $875,000 annually, was eligible for arbitration and filed by last Friday's 4 p.m. (CT) deadline along with Jordan Binnington, Joel Edmundson and Oskar Sundqvist.

Sanford scored his first Stanley Cup Playoff goal in Game 7 of the Cup Final against the Boston Bruins and was a huge piece to the series when he entered it in Game 3 after Sundqvist's suspension.

The 24-year-old Salem, Mass. native played in 60 regular-season games last season and had 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) and was a plus-8; he also played the first four playoff games against the Winnipeg Jets in the first round before returning in Game 3 against the Bruins. Sanford finished the playoffs with a goal and three assists and was a plus-4.

With Sanford's signing, that leaves arbitration-eligible Binnington, Edmundson and Sundqvist along with forwards Robby Fabbri and Ivan Barbashev, who were not arbitration-eligible, of the RFA's remaining to sign.

The Blues are listed on capfriendly.com to have roughly $12.4 in cap space available to sign those players, but that's including Jordan Schmaltz, Derrick Pouliot and Mackenzie MacEachern's salaries on the main roster that will likely eliminate and add $2.15 million onto the remaining $12.4 million to sign those players.

And there's still unrestricted free agent forward Pat Maroon, who remains unsigned and has not been ruled out for a return to the Blues, who have very little wiggle room to get all these players signed and figuring out a way to get Maroon back in the fold will be tough if not impossible.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Blais first RFA domino to fall, gets one-way contract

Blues quiet on first day of free agency, focus shifts on signing 
own players; Pouliot, Walker among depth signings on first day

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- On a relatively quiet day for the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Blues sat back and watched others dole out big dollars on the opening day of free agency.

General manager Doug Armstrong has made it clear that the Blues have to focus on their own restricted free agents, and slashed one off the list with the signing of forward Sammy Blais to a one-year, one way contract worth $850,000.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Sammy Blais celebrates with the
Stanley Cup after a Game 7 win at Boston.

Blais, 23, is a 2014 sixth-round pick who played in 32 regular-season games for the Blues this past season and had four points (two goals, two assists); he made his debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 6 of the Blues' second-round series against the Dallas Stars and scored what amounted to be an insurance goal that was essentially the nail-in-the-coffin goal and sent the series back to St. Louis for Game 7, one in which the Blues won 2-1 in double-overtime on a goal by Oakville native Pat Maroon.

Blais finished with one goal and two assists in 15 playoff games this season, helping the Blues to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history by playing a hard, physical game.

Blais is coming off an entry-level contract he signed in 2015 that paid him $2.175 million for three years that included a slide in his first year of 2015-16. Overall, Blais has seven points (three goals, four assists) in 43 regular-season games.

Blais' signing leaves the Blues with eight remaining restricted free agents, including goalie Jordan Binnington, defenseman Joel Edmundson, forwards Ivan Barbashev, Zach Sanford, Robby Fabbri and Oskar Sundqvist and minor leaguer goalie Ville Husso and defenseman Mitch Reinke.

With that in mind, the likelihood of Maroon, an unrestricted free agent, resigning with his hometown team seem remote at best. 

Maroon, who came home after agreeing to a one-year, $1.75 million contract on July 10 last year, became an important player on the Blues' third line with Tyler Bozak and Robert Thomas and scored one of the most important goals in franchise history in Game 7 against the Stars. 

But the Blues have to prioritize signing their RFA's and it will likely leave little to no money against the cap to fit Maroon back into the fold.

Maroon would love nothing more than to continue his career with his hometown team, and even said after the Cup-winning Game 7 over Boston, "I want more now, because once you get one (Cup), you want two. Hopefully I can stay here. Obviously I'm a free agent now. This is home for me now. I won something here. This is home for me." 

The Blues also announced Monday that they have agreed to terms on two-way contracts with forwards Nick Lappin, Evan Polei, Michael Vecchione and Nathan Walker and defensemen Derrick Pouliot and Jake Dotchin.

Pouliot, 25, spent the last two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks and had 12 points (three goals, nine) in 62 games in 2018-19 and 22 points (three goals, 19 assists) in 71 games the previous season. 

Pouliot is intriguing in that he was drafted with the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins; he has 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists) in 200 NHL games with Vancouver and Pittsburgh and was a teammate of Sundqvist with the Penguins 2014-15 and 2015-16. Both played in two playoff games during the Penguins' Cup-winning run in 2016.

Lappin, 26, split last season between the New Jersey Devils and Binghamton of the AHL. The Geneva, Ill. native has eight points (five goals, three assists) in 60 NHL games and 123 points (67 goals, 56 assists) in 168 AHL games. 

Walker, 25, has played in 12 NHL games for the Washington Capitals and Edmonton Oilers; he has one goal and one assist and became the first Australian to play in the NHL. He has 140 points (60 goals, 80 assists) in 300 games with Hershey of the AHL, Washington's affiliate.

Dotchin, 25, played 20 games for the Anaheim Ducks last season and had one assist. In 103 regular-season games over three seasons in the NHL, Dotchin has 23 points (three goals, 20 assists). 

Polei, 23, posted 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 53 games for Bakersfield of the AHL in 2018-19, including three points (two goals, one assist) in 10 playoff games.

Vecchione, 26, had 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 67 games for Lehigh Valley of the AHL last season, Philadelphia's affiliate; he played in two games for the Flyers in 2016-17. 

The Blues also signed Cam Darcy, Zach Nastasiuk and J.J. Piccinich to AHL contracts for San Antonio. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Blues remaining patient with Kostin's development

2017 first-round pick continuing to learn language barrier, culture, 
North American game with target goal of reaching NHL still in view 

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Klim Kostin stood in front of a limited number of media members Friday awaiting to test his English-speaking skills.

The Russian power forward, one of two first-round picks by the Blues in the 2017 NHL Draft, had a crutch if needed to help him understand and/or answer a question if he didn't understand something.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues are taking a patient approach when it comes to
2017 first-round pick Klim Kostin. 

Turns out the 20-year-old from Penza, Russia didn't need any help on this day from fellow Russian Alexey Toropchenko, on hand as a translator if needed, but Kostin in fact got a lot of Russian help, or lack thereof, in his two seasons with San Antonio of the American Hockey League.

What's been the secret? He said watching movies is one but also, "No Russian guys on team," Kostin said. "It's helping."

The English is still broken, naturally, but Kostin held his own in his first English-speaking interview in St. Louis since he was drafted, and the Blues are hoping that the patience he's displaying crafting the language translates to what can be a promising career on the ice.

Kostin, who scored twice in the White's 9-5 win over the Blue in Friday's final scrimmage, concluded his third prospect camp this week.

Some may find that surprising that the 31st pick, acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins along with Oskar Sundqvist for Ryan Reaves and a 2017 second-round pick, would return for another camp with prospects after being here the past two seasons and knocking on the NHL door. But the Blues are doing this right. They're nurturing this kid, they're being patient, they're allowing him to develop and they're doing it at a proper pace.

"His age. Just his age," said Tim Taylor, the Blues' director of player development and pro scout. "It's hard because we've put him in an environment at 18 and 19 where he's playing against men and we're expecting him to hang around guys that are 25, 28, that have kids, they have family. We've taken him out of that, kind of his own environment, his own kind of atmosphere where he can just be a kid. Sometimes you take the confidence out of them too at that young age and expectations are high, so I wanted to put him back in an environment where he's around kids his own age and he can talk about the same things, have the same interests, and at the same time, hopefully instill a lot more confidence in him. Not to say he didn't have confidence, but now you can see on the ice like he understands like, 'OK, this is where I'm at. I am real good. I am strong.' I thought it was a real good week for him.

"... Kostin looks really good (this week). He's only 20 years old. I think that we all forget that he is only 20. He's still one of the youngest kids out on the ice. He almost looks like a man amongst boys."

Kostin, whose father has been with him the past two seasons helping him get acclimated to a lifestyle in a new country, is also following the patient route.

He was a Black Ace recalled by the Blues during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which culminated into the franchise's first Cup championship, and he got a glimpse and taste of what he can perhaps experience himself in the future. So staying the course and making that development count is what's on Kostin's mind.

"I just try to change my game last two years from Russian style to American style," Kostin said. "I think it's successful."

What is the biggest difference from adjusting to a wider ice surface in Russia?

"More hits on ice," Kostin said. "It's a big difference than Russian hockey, more speed guys, more shooting.

"Size is different. That's why American hockey is like a little faster than Russian."

Kostin is coming off a 24-point season (10 goals, 14 assists) for the Rampage in 66 regular-season games last season. His minus-28 rating is something he mentioned and served notice to. And after a 28-point season (six goals, 22 assists) in 67 regular-season games his rookie season in 2017-18, some impatient fans have questioned whether Kostin will develop into the player they had heard about since being drafted.

Taylor explains why they believe it will still happen.

"Here's the easiest way to put it for a fan's perspective: in 2011, we drafted Jordan Binnington. In 2019, Jordan Binnington is in the NHL and the starting goalie for the Stanley Cup winner," Taylor said. "I know a goalie takes a little bit longer, but at the same time, we don't want to put Klim Kostin in the NHL, send him down, bring him up, send him down. He's taking steps. He's almost at the highest part of the mountain. He's getting there. He's getting closer. When he comes up, he's going to be a Blue for a long time."

Imagine going from a Russian lifestyle to all of the sudden, being drafted by an NHL team, then picking your life up and moving it to San Antonio, Texas, which is a 21-hour, 40-minute flight and takes two days by plane. It would be hard for anyone, let alone a teenager.

It helps when players are receptive to Kostin's situation and in the words of Rampage captain Chris Butler, they had to help him order pizza.

"I appreciate what the guys helped me first year," Kostin said. "They help me everywhere every day. I just try talk with everybody on the team. There's no Russian on the team. That's helped me to learn English.

"Yeah, (I feel) like more than comfortable (now)."

Bottom line: it takes time.

"You're coming from a different country," Taylor said. "If you took us, took myself or anyone else at 18 and put them in Russia and expectations that you're going to play at the KHL level and you're going to live in a different place and a fully different environment, you're a two-day flight from getting back home to seeing your family, you're worlds apart. For him at that age to come over here and to do what he's done, you talk to our San Antonio coaching staff, they thought that his growth and development took a huge step, especially at the end of last year, the second half of last year. His points weren't maybe what we would have expected, but at the end of the day, it wasn't about points. It was about playing North American hockey, playing the right way, playing under a team concept and then his skill level will take over.

"The biggest step isn't coming from the AHL to the NHL. The biggest step is going from junior hockey to the AHL. It's a big step."

Kostin has learned to not only hone his skills here, but he's also developed that physical edge to him. Listed as 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, Kostin was never asked to throw his weight around in Russia. He is here.

"I got in a couple of fights after somebody from the other team hit our guys," said Kostin, who had 102 penalty minutes last season. "I can't not fight this guy after he like crush our guy."

Kostin, who is expected to have a more prominent role with the Rampage this season, could finally make inroads as to being a potential factor on the Blues roster at some point, whether it be a recall or if his play improves that drastically, a permanent place. But if it doesn't happen for 2019-20, the 2020-21 season could very well be the time.

Taylor said the obstacles that lie ahead are simple.

"I would just say understanding the right way to play the game. He's getting there," Taylor said. "It's turnovers that young kids ... hope plays they try to make and understanding that one goal, yes, it's a mistake, but one goal makes a difference in a hockey game, and this isn't just about having fun anymore. This is a career. The guys that he's playing with expect him to do the right things too because they lose ice time. It's a man's game and all you want is these young kids to grow into and understand what it takes to play at this level.

"It happens to all of us, whether you're playing in North America or playing over there. At the same time, we also forget that he also missed three-quarters of the year, his draft year, too. He missed a huge, productive year for his development at that age. If you put it back there, he's still only a 19-year-old kid. We've had very few at this stage play at 19. Everyone thought ... Jordan Kyrou has some growth in his game. Sammy Blais is now going on his fourth year and is now really starting to produce at the NHL level. Robby Thomas (also a first-round pick in 2017, the 20th pick) was one of the few that come up when he was 19, Robby Fabbri came in when he was 19. Unfortunately his injuries have set him back, but it's tough for young kids. It's really tough to play a man's game. I was a player and young kids come up, you're not just stepping aside, 'Hey, kid, take my job. I'm going to leave now. Here's my $2 million dollars.' They have to be pushed out of the way. It's really tough for these young kids and for the remedy to grasp what it's all about, it takes a long time."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Klim Kostin spoke in St. Louis for the first time this week at prospect camp
and spoke of his progression, still learning English language and his 
desire to work his way to the NHL.

So in the meantime, Kostin said he simply needs to continue to put the work in. He'll have a Russian (Toropchenko) with him in San Antonio to continue helping smooth over the transition.

"I got to learn the language and just listening to coach and doing what he want of me," Kostin said. "... I came to St. Louis and watched the first two rounds, and after that St. Louis let me go home. It's amazing to me when you watch the (playoff) hockey. It's amazing for me. It's like so speedy, tough. I'll always be the power forward. I try to be like power forward in the NHL in the future.

"I think everybody has a chance to make the team. I just should keep working hard. And just show St. Louis what I can do. And ready for next season for NHL."

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Gunnarsson resigns with Blues

Defenseman inks two-year, $3.5 million contract to 
stay with Stanley Cup champs, pass on free agency

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Carl Gunnarsson is staying put.

The unrestricted free agent to-be defenseman will remain with the Stanley Cup champion Blues after agreeing to a two-year, $3.5 million contract ($1.75 million average annual value) on Thursday afternoon.
Carl Gunnarsson

Gunnarsson, who was set to become a UFA and free to sign elsewhere beginning Monday, was drawing interest elsewhere during the free agency window opening period in which teams can talk to free agents ahead of the official signing day.

But Gunnarsson, 32, who is coming off a three-year, $8.7 million contract ($2.9 AAV) was comfortable in St. Louis and being a part of the championship roster and camaraderie built within the locker room helped him stay in St. Louis.

Gunnarsson has dealt with injuries throughout his 10-year NHL career, including this past season in which he played in just 25 games because of a torn ACL in his left knee and wrist injurues.

But Gunnarsson, who had three points (one goal, two assists) in 19 Stanley Cup playoff games, scored one of the biggest goals in playoff franchise history when he clinched the first Stanley Cup Final playoff win with an overtime goal in Game 2 against the Boston Bruins.

In 581 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Blues, Gunnarsson has 129 points (28 goals, 101 assists). He was acquired from the Maple Leafs on June 28, 2014 for defenseman Roman Polak and a fourth-round pick in 2014, which the Blues used to select goalie Ville Husso.  

Gunnarsson's signing leaves the Blues with one unsigned defenseman among their top seven. Joel Edmundson is a restricted free agent but received a qualifying offer on Monday.

Berube lived in the moment, eventually turned Blues around, earned new contract

Coach signed three-year contract after leading Blues to first-ever 
Stanley Cup title; held players accountable on daily basis, good or bad

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Craig Berube never viewed his promotion in November as a trial.

When Berube was named interim coach of the Blues on Nov. 19 after Mike Yeo was fired following a 2-0 home loss to the Los Angeles Kings, Berube was handed the keys to have a go at turning the Blues' season around, one that was stagnant at 7-9-3 at the time but one filled with so much promise following money spent on July 1 by general manager Doug Armstrong.  
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Coach Craig Berube hoists the Stanley Cup after the Blues defeated Boston
In Game 7, 4-1, for the franchise's first-ever title.

"I don't think I ever thought like that. I like coaching," Berube said Wednesday, his first comments after officially having the interim tag removed from his title with a three-year contract announced on Tuesday. "I had a good relationship with Doug going forward before this season when he brought me in as a scout to work for him and coach the Chicago Wolves minor league team. I just like coaching and when I got the job here, my first thought was to get this team back on track and get things in order. We had a lot of new players and it wasn't fitting together at the time and in my mind, it was to get that fit together. We had to get everybody on track and once that started going, the coaching staff and Doug too, we started feeling good about the way we were playing, but we needed more wins. [Jordan] Binnington obviously helped that coming in, he played really well and that's when the wins started piling up. I just enjoyed being here coaching and being a coach here every day for the St. Louis Blues. I wasn't really thinking about too much past that."

And with that mindset, it's how the Blues turned things around, culminated by the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup championship.

At the time, Armstrong wasn't going to endorse Berube as the permanent head coach. But after a couple months of maneuvering and aligning things in order and getting the team to play better, the list of candidates Armstrong was compiling withered away quickly.

"The search started out with talking to our staff, pro and amateur, get us a list of the top college coaches, the top junior coaches, top European coaches," Armstrong said. "So we had a long list, but we never got past the point of compiling a list. Once we got into January, we were certainly going to allow Craig to guide the team for the rest of the year ... the wins started to accumulate, and quite honestly, I don't think I've looked at that list since January. I don't even know where it is. It just became evident that he got the pulse of our group. Our relationship was growing and becoming extremely comfortable, as he said, and the belief that we had. And then as the season progressed, it became evident to everybody that he was going to be the next head coach."

Berube, a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year, went 38-19-6 in 63 games after taking over for Mike Yeo, who was fired Nov. 19. The Blues defeated the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks and Bruins to win the Cup. 

The Blues went 30-10-5 and earned a playoff berth after they were in last place in the NHL standings Jan. 3. 

The Blues won the Cup in Game 7 on June 12, winning 4-1 at TD Garden to win the series 4-3, and it was not too long after that Berube was offered the job on a permanent basis.

"I would say that I went to Craig with maybe a week left in the season and said things are going great, let’s just wait until the year’s over," Armstrong said. "Whenever it ends, we’ll get to it. He had done enough to insure my mind that we wanted him to be our head coach, but in any negotiation you walk in hoping it’s going to go quickly and this one did go relatively quickly, but you can get some bumps on the road, some differing opinions and I certainly didn’t want that walking into game two, or three or four of a playoff series. 

"We wanted his mind focused on the task and when the season ended, we didn’t really quite honestly talk until last weekend because there was a lot going on here in St. Louis. Craig was up for coach of the year, we went to Vegas, then we went to the draft and when we put pen to paper, our minds together, I worked with his representative and we got to work with four or five days of back and forth, understanding each other’s positions, it went very quickly. I knew and I said to Craig at the end of the regular season that he was going to be our head coach, but let’s just do it at an appropriate time."

And with that, Berube, the first coach to guide the Blues to a Stanley Cup, is already thinking ahead. Thinking ahead to defend the title, thinking ahead to winning multiple Cups, which in itself is hard to do (Pittsburgh did it in 2016 and 2017; Detroit did it in 1997 and 1998 before that). 

"It takes everybody. The players did a tremendous job, the coaching staff, management, everybody that was involved and you need everybody to be part of it," Berube said. "Everybody bought in and fortunately we came out on top, which was great and I just want to thank Doug for giving me the opportunity moving forward on the new contract to guide the St. Louis Blues to hopefully more championships. It takes a lot of hard work and there are a lot of good teams so we’ll have to be prepared."

When the Blues were 15-18-4, with the fewest points (34) in the league at the time in Jan. 3, they learned quickly how to park games, good or bad. Even in a franchise-record 11-game winning streak (Jan. 23-Feb. 21), players learned to not dwell on the past. Tunnel vision was key and Berube was the catalyst in that department.

"You just hold people accountable," Berube said. "Whether it's through ice time, where you fit in in the lineup on a nightly basis. It's really conversations with the players more than anything. It's just putting the team first mindset and drilling it into the team. That's really basically it. It takes a lot of work, it's every day, but it's getting that team first mindset. Once we started to get that and once I started to see guys fitting in certain areas, we were playing pretty good hockey. We just weren't getting the wins and that started to come. I think that's the simplest way I can put it. Conversations and holding players and people accountable, including myself. Putting the team first. When you do that and have good players, you have a chance to win."

The Blues finished 45-28-9 and finished one point behind the Nashville Predators for first in the Central Division, as amazing it that sounds considering they were in last place with 48 games remaining in the season. They carried that momentum into wins against the Jets (six games), Stars (seven games), Sharks (six games) and finally, the Bruins.

"What he stressed to everyone in our group is, 'Let's live in the moment. You're not going to change yesterday and tomorrow is going to come soon enough, let's work on today,'" Armstrong said of Berube. "I really appreciated that approach. As a manager, you're always hoping for the best, but we got to January and I thought we were playing really good hockey. I go back to certain stretches and losses where I drove home feeling really good about how we played and disappointed on the result. The two that come to mind are the Islanders game (a 4-3 loss on Jan. 5) and the Rangers game here at home (a 2-1 loss on Dec. 31). I thought we played fantastic hockey. I thought that Craig had the team playing just point-on and we just couldn't score goals. But there was a feeling that if you continued to play that way, good things are going to happen and they did. Really only the poor game we had probably since early December wasn't even a poor game. Pittsburgh came in and annihilated our PK with four power play goals (on Dec. 29, a 6-1 loss). But other than that, we were in every game, we were playing strong hockey on every given night: Vancouver, on that Western road swing; we beat Edmonton and I thought we played a helluva game against Vancouver. And it reaffirmed that you're not going to win every game, but if you're competitive and playing the correct way, you're going to win more than you're going to lose. And I thought Craig did a great job of making sure we played a correct style of hockey."

The buy-in started, and the wins accumulated.

"Well, it takes time. It always does," Berube said. "You've got to push it and prod and do all kinds of things to get everybody on the same page and to buy in, it takes a little time. They did a great job, our players. They wanted to be a good team and that obviously happened and they became a good team. That's to their credit. That's not an easy thing to win a Stanley Cup, I'll tell you that. It's a tough road and again, you've got to have a real good team. You can have good players and you might not win. You've got to have a good team, and we had a good team this year."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Craig Berube went 38-19-6 after taking over for Mike Yeo on Nov. 19. He
was named permanent Blues coach on Tuesday with a three-year contract.

Now that good team will have a short summer to try and get reorganized in a couple months and make another run at it again.

"I think it's a challenge every year coming into a new season," Berube said, "but it'll be a little bit of a tougher challenge (next) year (after) winning the Cup. Obviously your season's a lot longer this year. Training is a little bit  tougher. Coming into camp's going to be important, having that push and being ready to go October 2nd, it comes quick, but it will be a challenge for sure. I think that it's important that it's a day-to-day basis. That's how we have to look at the season. We're going to have to do the same thing this year right from training camp and throughout the season. You win a game, lose a game, you've got to fix whatever you've got to fix, but you've got to move on from it and focus on the next game. That's really important to do. That's got to be our mindset going forward too. I know it was this year, but it's got to be next year again."

Monday, June 24, 2019

Thomas has surgery on left wrist

Rookie had left tendon injury sustained during conference 
final against San Jose; will be reevaluated prior to training camp

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues announced on Monday morning that Robert Thomas had successful surgery on his left wrist to repair a tendon injury in his left wrist.

Robert Thomas
Thomas, who sustained the injury during Game 6 of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks, will rehabilitate the injury throughout the off-season and undergo a full evaluation ahead of training camp in September.

Thomas, who turns 20 on July 2, was the subject of a hard hit from Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug during Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in the third period. He did not play another shift and did not make an appearance in the final until Game 6 but played less than 10 minutes.

Thomas played in 70 regular-season games last season and had 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists) and six points (one goal, five assists) in 21 postseason games and helped the Blues capture their first-ever Stanley Cup.

Thomas had the primary assist on the Game 7 goal scored by Pat Maroon in double-overtime of a 2-1 win against the Dallas Stars in the second round.

Blues center Ryan O'Reilly disclosed after Game 7 of the Cup Final that he had been playing with a cracked rib sustained against the Stars.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has yet to hold court with the media to disclose who/what injuries were sustained and if anyone else will need surgery/rehabilitation during the off-season. With the Cup Final lasting through June 12, an ensuing parade, the NHL Awards in Las Vegas and the NHL Draft this past weekend in Vancouver, players were making exit physicals/interviews with management this past weekend to determine where they're at physically.

Perhaps more will be disclosed beginning Tuesday with the upcoming prospect camp.

* Musil granted release -- The Blues also placed forward and 2015 fourth-round pick Adam Musil on unconditional waivers on Monday.

Musil spent the past two seasons with San Antonio of the American Hockey League; he had 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 65 games last season.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Blues make five picks at 2019 NHL Draft

St. Louis didn't pick until second round, selected German-born Russian center; 
acquired seventh-round pick from Leafs; selected two centers, two goals, winger

By LOU KORAC
With limited picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, the Blues weren't a factor on the weekend's festivities at Rogers Arena in Vancouver until Saturday.

The Blues had no first round pick this year, having traded it to the Buffalo Sabres on July 1 last season that brought some guy named Ryan O'Reilly to the Blues, who happened to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history this season in case somehow you slept through the past two months.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Second round pick Nikita Alexandrov shakes hands with Blues general
manager Doug Armstrong after being selected in the 2019 NHL Draft in
Vancouver on Saturday.

The Blues had five picks on Saturday, including one in the second, third and fifth rounds and two in the seventh round 

The Blues had the final pick of the second round and went center with German center Nikita Alexandrov, who had 61 points (27 goals, 34 assists) for Charlottestown of the QMJHL this past season.

Alexandrov, listed as 6-foot, 190 pounds, had a 30-point improvement this past season with the Islanders, was born in Germany to Russian parents. His father, Igor, played for the Russian 1993 World Junior team and had a 23-year career in Russia, Germany, Norway and in the United States for the American Hockey League's Springfield Indians in 1993-94. 

Alexandrov, 18, said in his bio on NHL.com that he models his style of play after that of Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetzov.

"I'm really excited what's going to happen in the future and to get drafted in such a good organization," Alexandrov told reporters after his selection. "... There's more Stanley Cups to win and I think the next few years will be exciting."

It's the first time since 2015 that the Blues did not have a first-round pick, and in that draft, their first choice was defenseman Vince Dunn, who went No. 56, or six spots higher than Alexandrov.

Alexandrov will spend one more season in Charlottetown and take it from there where he winds up.

"After that, we will see what's going to happen; you never know," Alexandrov said. "... I have to improve on my upper-body strength and my explosiveness. I think I'm really going to focus on this, this summer and the next couple years."

The Blues went goalie with their third round pick (93rd) with the selection of Colten Ellis, who has spent the past two seasons with Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL. 

Last season, Ellis, 18, had a 2.47 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in 46 regular-season games, and 2.36 GAA and .919 save percentage in 12 postseason games.

The Blues did not have a fourth-round pick. It went to Toronto for the acquisition of Nikita Soshnikov, who has since departed for the Kontinental Hockey League, so the Blues were not on the docket until the fifth round (No. 155) and they used that pick to take 5-10, 184-pound Keean Washkurak, who spent the past two seasons with Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League.

Washkurak, who doesn't turn 18 until August 17, had 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 66 regular-season games for the Steelheads last season and had an assist in seven games for Canada's World Junior team this past season.

The Blues also didn't have a sixth-round pick. That went to Anaheim for the trade that brought defenseman Michael Del Zotto at the trade deadline.

The Blues were supposed to have just the last pick (No. 217) of the draft in the seventh round but picked up one at No. 208 from Toronto, trading their 2020 seventh-round pick to the Maple Leafs and using it to take another goalie, Russian Vadim Zherenko.

Zherenko, 18, spent last season with MHK Dynamo Moskva of the Russian Junior Hockey League (MHL). He posted a 2.39 GAA and .936 save percentage.

And with the final pick at No. 217, the Blues grabbed left wing Jeremy Michel of Val-D'or of the QMJHL.

The 6-0, 165-pound Michel, 18, had 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists) with Val-D'or last season, his second there.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Blues to open season Oct. 2 against Capitals

First-ever Stanley Cup banner raising ceremony to take place prior 
to game; remainder of 2019-20 NHL schedule to be released Tuesday

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- For the first time, there will be a championship banner raising for the Blues to open a season.

The NHL announced on Friday afternoon the home openers for each of the 31 teams, and the Blues will open the 2019-20 season on Wednesday, Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. against the Washington Capitals in a battle of the past two Stanley Cup champions.

Before the game, the Blues will unveil and raise to the Enterprise Center rafters the first-ever Stanley Cup champion banner along with one signifying them as Western Conference champions.

The remainder of the NHL schedule will be released on Tuesday at 11 a.m. (CT) on NHL Network. 

It will mark the second time in three seasons the Blues will be part of a banner-raising ceremony They opened on the road in 2017 when the Pittsburgh Penguins unveiled their championship banner, and the Blues went on to spoil the night with a 5-4 win in overtime.

The Blues will conclude their eight-game preseason schedule on Sept. 29, then have two days off before opening the regular season. The Capitals visit Enterprise Center on Sept. 27.

* Prospect camp set -- The Blues will hold their 2019 prospect camp June 25-28 at Enterprise Center.

Blues prospects expected to participate in camp include first-round draft picks Klim Kostin (2017) and Dominik Bokk (2018), second-round pick Scott Perunovich (2018) and fourth-round picks Alexey Toropchenko (2017) and Joel Hofer (2018). Draft picks selected at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver could be added a later date.

Scrimmages are free and open to the public, but a mobile ticket will be required to attend. Reserve up to eight tickets by choosing your session(s) below and using the promo code: PROSPECTS. Use this link to apply: https://oss.ticketmaster.com/aps/blues/EN/promotion/home

Each day of camp will feature a scrimmage split between 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 play.

Morning sessions will not be open to the public. Please see below for a day-by-day breakdown of the camp schedule (doors open one hour before each event):

Tuesday, June 25
10:15 a.m. – Team MacInnis on-ice skills and power skating
11:15 a.m. – Team Tkachuk on-ice skills and power skating
1 p.m. – Goalies on ice
2 p.m. – Scrimmage

Wednesday, June 26
10:15 a.m. – Team Tkachuk on-ice skills and power skating
11:15 a.m. – Team MacInnis on-ice skills and power skating
1 p.m. – Goalies on ice
2 p.m. – Scrimmage

Thursday, June 27
1 p.m. – On-ice testing
3 p.m. – Scrimmage

Friday, June 28
10:15 a.m. – Team MacInnis on-ice skills and power skating
11:15 a.m. – Team Tkachuk on-ice skills and power skating
6 p.m. – Scrimmage

PROSPECT CAMP ROSTER
TEAM TKACHUK
Forwards: Ben Copeland (74), Casey Gilling (81), Kevin Hancock (82), Klim Kostin (37), Nikolaj Krag (58), Mathias LaFerriere (59), Tyson McLellan (80), Taylor Schneider (63), Alexey Toropchenko (65)

Defense: Jared Kucharek (68), Colin Swoyer (61), Tyler Tucker (75)

Goalies: Jakub Dobes (40), Joel Hofer (1)

TEAM MACINNIS
Forwards: Mitchell Balmas (88), Dominik Bokk (26), Pat Curry (76), Cam Donaldson (84), Krystof Hrabik (89), Robby Jackson (79), Filip Helt (86), Hugh McGing (56), Connor Sodergren (72)

Defense: Scott Perunovich (47), Griffen Mendel (60)


Goalies: Jonas Arntzen (30), Jack Caruso (45)

* 2019 Draft in Vancouver -- The 2019 NHL Draft gets underway at Rogers Arena today at 7 p.m. with first round selections on NBCSN. Rounds 2-7 will take place on Saturday at noon on NHL Network.

The Blues have four picks in this weekend's draft but barring trade, which is unlikely, none in the first round. That pick, No. 31, went to the Buffalo Sabres in the trade that brought Ryan O'Reilly to St. Louis on July 1, 2018.

The Blues will have picks in the second round (62nd), third round (93rd), fifth round (155th) and seventh round (217th). Their fourth-round pick went to Toronto for the trade that brought forward Nikita Soshnikov to St. Louis, and their sixth-round pick went to Anaheim for the deadline trade that netted defenseman Michael Del Zotto.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Stillman's group purchase remaining minority shares of Blues

Remaining shares purchased from Sports Capital Holdings, which was 
previous owner led by Dave Checketts; preseason schedule revealed

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are all-St. Louis now.

Majority owner Tom Stillman announced on Wednesday that he and his local ownership group have acquired the minority interest in the Blues from the previous ownership group, Sports Capitals Holdings, which was led by Dave Checketts and owned the franchise from 2006-12.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Tom Stillman (second from left) and 10 partners of the Blues' ownership
group pose with the Stanley Cup. The local owners on Wednesday bought
the remaining minority shares from Dave Checketts, meaning the Blues
are now 100 percent locally owned.

The NHL approved the purchase Wednesday at its Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas and completes the full exit of SCH from any interest in the Blues. The Blues said Wednesday that the current ownership group’s membership will remain the same, with Stillman to continue as the team’s chairman and governor and now means Stillman’s group owns 100 percent of the team. 

"This is the best possible outcome for the St. Louis Blues, our city and community, and our supporters everywhere," Stillman said in a statement. "Our all-local ownership group acquired the Blues in 2012 with two overriding goals: win a Stanley Cup for St. Louis and secure the long-term health of the franchise. Today the group made another major commitment, purchasing the only remaining outside interest in the team. All of our members will stay on board, maintaining the all-local makeup of the group. We commend the prior ownership group for its investment in the Blues and for working with us to complete this transaction.

"Going forward, it will be business as usual, both on and off the ice. We will continue to serve St. Louis by investing in the Blues, the Enterprise Center, and the community, and we look forward to raising our first Stanley Cup banner in October."

Stillman’s ownership group purchased the Blues in 2012 from SCH and backed by a private equity firm, TowerBrook Capital Partners. Checketts' group purchased the Blues from Bill and Nancy Laurie. 

Members of the Blues’ all-local ownership group include Stillman, Jerald Kent, Donn Lux, James Cooper, Jo Ann Taylor Kindle, Steve Maritz, Edward Potter, Andrew Taylor, David Steward, Jim Kavanaugh, John Danforth, Christopher Danforth, Jim Johnson III, Scott McCuaig, John Ross, Jr., and Tom Schlafly.

* Preseason schedule released -- Despite winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup a week ago, business as usual must proceed, and the Blues announced their preseason opponents, dates and times for the 2019-20 preseason schedule on Tuesday.

The Blues will play eight games, opening at Dallas on Sept. 16. They'll play five road games and three at Enterprise Center, including the home-opener on Sept. 22 against Columbus. The Blues will play the Stars, Washington Capitals and Blue Jackets home and home. They'll also play a road game at Winnipeg and the Detroit Red Wings in the Kraft Hockeyville game in Calumet, Mich. on Sept. 26.

Here is the Blues' preseason schedule in full, with times in Central and home games in bold (game times are tentative and subject to change): 

SEPTEMBER
16 -- at Dallas, 7:30 p.m.
18 -- at Washington, 6 p.m.
20 -- at Winnipeg, 7 p.m.
22 -- COLUMBUS, 2 p.m.
24 -- DALLAS, 7 p.m.
26 -- vs. Detroit (at Calumet, Mich.), 6 p.m.
27 -- WASHINGTON, 7 p.m.
29 -- at Columbus, 4 p.m.

Grading the 2018-19 Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Fifty previous times, Blues seasons have ended short of where they wanted to be.

Well, that can be said for all but one team each and every year; that's why the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports.

Not this time, not this year.

In their 51st season, and 52nd year since they debuted in 1967, the Blues are Stanley Cup champions, doing so in brilliant, yet predictable fashion on the road in Game 7 against an Original Six team, the Boston Bruins.

The Blues went from worst to first, a record of 15-18-4 (34 points) on Jan. 3 to 45-28-9 (99 points), and finishing just one point -- amazingly -- out of winning the Central Division that included a franchise-record 11-game winning streak (Jan. 23-Feb. 21).

St. Louis qualified for the postseason after missing out last season for the first time in eight seasons, then won series against the Winnipeg Jets (six games), Dallas Stars (seven games), San Jose Sharks (six games) and finally, an epic seven-game series against the Bruins that culminated with a 4-1 win in Game 7 at TD Garden.

The Blues, who made big splashes fortifying their roster with free agent signings of forwards David Perron, Tyler Bozak and Pat Maroon, then making the biggest splash of all by trading for Ryan O'Reilly, who went from having lost his love for hockey to winning the Stanley Cup and being named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner all in one year. Mike Yeo was fired as coach after 19 games and replaced by Craig Berube when things didn't start off so well; Goalie Jordan Binnington burst onto the scene on Jan. 7 with his first NHL start, eventually replacing Jake Allen as the starter and the rest is history.

With the 2018-19 season now complete, here are my grades for the season on players, coaches, management and most importantly, those that prepared the players for this long, grueling but rewarding 114-game season that included preseason, regular season and playoffs that finished with the Blues' first time being on top:

SKATERS
Forwards:

Ivan Barbashev -- This was a coming out party of sorts for the Blues' second-round pick in 2014. Barbashev set career highs in goals (14), assists (12) and points (26) while being a minus-4 playing in a career-high 80 games in his third season in the NHL. Barbashev got off to a much better this season after spending the summer in St. Louis refining his game, but it was a challenge finding what exactly his role would be and where he would fit. Once he realized his potential as a checking forward, playing center or the wing and finding a niche with Oskar Sundqvist and Alexander Steen in the postseason, Barbashev's value was quickly found, and interim coach Craig Berube even labeled Barbashev as the Blues' best checking forward. Barbashev would finish with six points (three goals, three assists) in 25 playoff games and really came on as the season wore on. He was part of arguably the Blues' most valuable line when it came to playing a defensive/checking/hitting role against the opposition's top lines in the postseason, and I really love his upside moving forward now that there's a defined role for him. Is there more upside there offensively? I think so. If the Blues can get him in that 15-20 goal range, and perhaps in the 30-35 point area, this will be a very valuable player moving forward, and he's only 24. One would think Barbashev is in for a pay raise as a restricted free agent.
My grade: B+


Sammy Blais -- I would normally give an incomplete grade here considering Blais played in only 32 regular-season games but I can't discredit his importance in being a solid complementary piece in the playoffs. Blais' second season in the NHL (he played in just 11 games last season) saw him remain on the San Antonio Express, being jettisoned between St. Louis and San Antonio of the American Hockey League, where he was one of the Rampage's top offensive weapons, and rightfully so considering his penchant for offense coming up through the QMJHL and AHL with Chicago and San Antonio the past two seasons, where Blais had 83 points (43 goals, 40 assists) and another 18 (eight goals, 10 assists) in 26 games this season. What impressed me most about Blais is his ability to adapt to a checking forward, one that wasn't afraid to throw his body around and adapt to kick his NHL career off. I think he finally understands that he has to play with an edge if he's going to stick with the Blues and in the NHL. Berube inserted Blais into Game 6 of the second round against Dallas, an elimination game, and he paid immediate dividends by scoring what amounted to the nail-in-the-coffin goal in a 4-1 win. Blais was used in a top-six role, primarily with Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron in the playoffs, and he combined his skill with his physicality, a component tough for a skilled player to adapt to, but he did it well. There's still parts to his game Blais has to round into form, and I believe he will with game experience, but I think it's safe to say the Blues developed themselves a nice player drafted in the sixth round in 2014, and he's only 23. Blais had four points (two goals, two assists) in 32 regular-season games and another three points (one goal, two assists) in 15 postseason games. I think Blais is in for a nice little raise as he enters restricted free agency.
My grade: B


Tyler Bozak -- My first thoughts when the Blues signed Bozak to a three-year, $15 million free agent contract were that this was a solid signing, but one that if he's going to average $5 million per season, I needed to see the offense, and more than a guy that filled a necessary role as a responsible two-way center. Bozak's numbers (13 goals, 25 assists) aren't what I would call eye-popping numbers in the regular-season, but boy, what I do remember when he was on the scoresheet is that his inclusion on them came when the Blues scored critical goals, and his face-off percentage (54.34 percent) and defensive responsibilities couldn't be denied. And when the playoffs started, Bozak, Robert Thomas and Pat Maroon started things off as one of the most consistent lines that was at the center of the Blues' identity, one that forechecked the heck out of Winnipeg, Dallas and San Jose. That trio would have solid, sustained zone time with their puck possession, and Bozak set up one of the most important goals of this postseason, to Jaden Schwartz with 15 seconds remaining in regulation of Game 5 of the first round against the Jets that completed a 3-2 comeback win, and he scored the game-winner in that series in Game 1 as well as help set up the game-winner by Maroon in Game 7 against the Stars. Bozak's 13 points (five goals, eight assists) and 54 percent face-off percentage in 26 playoff games was sufficient and a vital part of the puzzle for the Blues. I would have liked to see bigger offensive numbers for a guy used on the power-play. His power-play points have dropped from 18 to 13 to eight the past three seasons, but all-in-all, a solid first season in St. Louis for the veteran.  
My grade: B


Robby Fabbri -- This is a tough one for me to grade, simply because I feel for Fabbri. I get that he's had two major knee surgeries on his left ACL that preceded the other ailments that followed, including a separated shoulder. Fabbri, who was selected by the Blues in the first round in 2014, has seen his numbers regress as a result of his injuries and his role regress as a result of not being able to find his form of his rookie season when he produced 37 points (18 goals, 19 assists) in 72 games in 2015-16 and 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 15 playoff games that season. He played in just 32 games this season with six points (two goals, four assists) and another 10 in the playoffs (one goal), often being a healthy scratch but continuing to work hard and give the coaching staff an option of inclusion into the lineup. There were signs of the former Fabbri coming back at times, but there were also those moments of a guy that hadn't seen an NHL game in a year and a half, and that's what makes this a tough grade. This is going to be an important off-season for Fabbri, who enters as a restricted free agent and is still just 23 years old. Nobody knows if Fabbri will get past those major knee surgeries moving forward, but for him to be in the Blues' future plans, he needs his health to return to as close to 100 percent as possible, his mental state to be back pre-injury and his game to find its way. I really liked pre-injury Fabbri, but the one that we saw in limited action this season isn't the one the Blues will be counting on. They have to hope he finds that former game again. Fabbri's a restricted free agent but without any leverage at this point.
My grade: D


Jordan Kyrou -- The Blues' second round pick in 2016 dressed in just 16 NHL games this season (one goal, two assists) and showed at times with his speed and finesse why the Blues picked him and why they're high on him. But he also displayed at times, that he needed to play in the AHL at San Antonio to enhance his pro game. Kyrou is just 21 and a part of the Blues' long-term plans, perhaps as early as next season he will get a permanent look, and they have to be encouraged with his season with the Rampage (16 goals, 27 assists) in 47 games.
My grade: incomplete


Mackenzie MacEachern -- I wouldn't normally give a guy a grade here playing in just 29 games, but MacEachern deserves one considering he was thrust into the NHL on Jan. 10 against Montreal right when the Blues were on the cusp of building their worst-to-first run. He was brought into a situation when the Blues were hurting for bodies and the 25-year-old gave them what they needed, a responsible fourth-liner that would play his role well and chip in the occasional offense (three goals, two assists). I thought MacEachern handled his role well and used his resources accordingly. MacEachern didn't play again after March 17 and had just one assist in his final 17 games after four points in 12 but always was a team player. He kept himself ready if the Blues needed him.
My grade: B 


Pat Maroon -- Can a better script be written for the Oakville native coming home and winning a Stanley Cup in his first season? Talk about fairytales, but it certainly didn't start that way. Maroon's season was much like that of his team's: bad start, terrific finish. When Maroon signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract to come home and be with his family, turning down more term and money, it was a sign of a guy willing to live out a dream. But that dream nearly turned into a hometown nightmare. In fact, Maroon was that close from being placed on waivers by the Blues in January. He was a healthy scratch on Jan. 10 but returned to play the next game in Dallas with the Blues dealing with injuries. He scored in that win, and his season seemed to springboard from then on. I believe Maroon's back injury from the previous season and off-season wasn't quite up to par and affected his ability to protect pucks in the offensive zone with his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame. But he found his game with Bozak and Thomas, and that trio went on to do some terrific things down the stretch and into the playoffs, including Maroon scoring one of the biggest goals of this playoff run in Game 7 against Dallas in double-overtime of a 2-1 win. Maroon finished with just 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in 74 games, a dropoff of his previous season in Edmonton and New Jersey (17 goals, 26 assists) in 74 games but he's a perfect example of general manager Doug Armstrong remaining patient instead of blowing the roster up when the Blues were laboring in last place at the turn of the calendar year. Maroon is an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and indicated he'd like to return and go for another Stanley Cup, but in assessing his season, which included seven points (three goals, four assists) in 26 playoff games, he turned a bad season into a solid one my sticking with things and finally looking healthy. Maroon is an unrestricted free agent, and whether he returns or not depends on if the Blues can work something out with him again. One would think he'd be hungry for a repeat title, but you never know. What if Maroon decides to hang them up and go out on top? Not like it's the first time that's ever happened. Time will tell.
My grade: B-


Jordan Nolan -- A two-time Cup winner with the Los Angeles Kings, the 29-year-old Nolan was signed for depth purposes, a veteran presence in case the Blues needed one with injuries always a possibility. Nolan got into just 14 games in the regular season and none in the playoffs, although he was my pick when Thomas was ailing in the third round and in the Cup Final against Boston. I can's assess Nolan's play with limited action, but I'll tell you what, nothing stands out more to me than when Nolan obliterated Winnipeg's Patrik Laine with the cleanest of hits in the first period of a 1-0 Blues win on Dec. 7. I mean, just absolutely crushed Laine and set the tone for the game.  
My grade: incomplete


Ryan O'Reilly -- What I say about this man in this space can't be enough. If there was ever a player in the NHL that needed a change, not just lifestyle but from a professional workload standpoint, it was O'Reilly. From the moment he was traded to the Blues last July 1 and declared to GM Doug Armstrong in the initial phone conversation to "Let's go win a Cup," the season couldn't have gone any better for O'Reilly, who is a finalist for the Selke, King Clancy and Lady Byng. He already has the Conn Smythe to his name after being named the Stanley Cup Playoff's MVP by being tied for most points with 23 (eight goals, 15 assists). O'Reilly's play this season was nothing short of spectacular. He centered most, if not all, of the Blues' top six forwards at one point or another, and no matter who he played with, he seemed to mesh with them instantaneously. Not only did O'Reilly lead the Blues in points with a career-high 77, he tied a career-high in goals (28) and set a career-high in assists (49). His plus-22 was by far a career-high, and although his face-off percentage fell off from 59.98 percent past season to 56.86 this season, he won the most in the league with 1,086, including second in even-strength face-offs won (813). O'Reilly was used in all facets. He was a top 5-on-5 guy, top power-play guy and penalty killer. Want someone in 3-on-3 in OT? OK. And when it came to the playoffs, O'Reilly disclosed he played with a cracked rib for much of it, and his face-off numbers were reflective of it despite still winning 50.08 percent of his draws. The guy wanted to win so badly he put his health on the line, as many players do, to accomplish this feat. Other than the games where he was playing injured, I just can't recall coming away from any games this season thinking that O'Reilly had a bad game, didn't do much or didn't affect it in some shape or form. A perfect ending to arguably the best season of O'Reilly's career. When the new season starts, his first point will be the 500th of his NHL career.
My grade: A+ 


David Perron -- There must be something about St. Louis for the French-Canadian from Sherbrooke, Quebec, because he just keeps coming back, time and time again. Three times as a matter of fact. And in this third stint, which began when Perron returned as a free agent on a four-year, $16 million contract after helping lead Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final (losing in five games to Washington), he helped lead the Blues to the promised land for the first time. Perron's regular-season was limited to 57 games (coincidentally, which is also his number) after sustaining another concussion that forced him to miss 25 games. I liked Perron's season (23 goals, 23 assists) for the most part. He was an offensive factor and scored some key, timely goals and was one of the veterans who kept the glue of the locker room in tact when things appeared to be falling off the rails after a poor first half of the season for the team. What may have been best for him was when Berube benched Perron one game in December because he came back motivated and hungry to contribute. His bad marker, however, was the penchant for taking inopportune penalties in bad spots, particularly in the offensive zone. But he played a solid top-six role this season and kept that going into the playoffs with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 26 games. I've always been a fan of Perron's game. Not the game-breaker people always talk about but someone that always seems to find himself involved in wins. His 23 goals were the most since he potted a career-high 28 with Edmonton in 2013-14 and most in a Blues uniform in eight seasons. Perron will remain a key cog moving forward.
My grade: A-


Zach Sanford -- I prefer to talk about Sanford backwards here, because his contributions in the Stanley Cup Final against Boston were fantastic. I never had him on the radar to replace Sundqvist when he was suspended for Game 3, but Berube -- again -- made the right choice and inserting Sanford into the lineup, first on the fourth line, and then when he stayed in, he moved up to play with O'Reilly and Perron. Not only did Sanford, who hadn't played since Game 3 of the first round, contribute with a point (one goal, three assists) in four of the five games he played in, including the final Blues goal in Game 7, he was a factor in the checking/physicality department that enabled the Blues to win the series. Of course, Sanford was motivated to play against the team he grew up watching and cheering for, having been born 30 minutes north of Boston in Salem, Mass., but this was the perfect sample size and body of work that if Sanford can consistently contribute, he can be an effective player in the NHL. The problem, as was the case in the regular season, this hasn't always proven to be the case. Sanford did play in a career-high 60 regular-season games this year and contributed 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists), but I think the inconsistencies can be ironed out here. Yes, Sanford is only 24 and will be 25 but the untapped potential moniker needs to show some legs moving into his mid-20s. Washington selected him in the second round in 2013 for a reason, but there is also a reason they included him in a trade for Kevin Shattenkirk in 2017. If the Sanford of the Boston series can surface on a more regular basis, this can be a nice complementary player. If not, then the Blues must decide which direction to go with the arbitration-eligible player who is a restricted free agent. But Sanford's play against the Bruins most certainly raised his grade.
My grade: B-


Brayden Schenn -- Skill and guts. That's the best way to describe Schenn's play this season, despite his numbers falling back a hit from his first season in St. Louis. When I look at Schenn's numbers alone, they didn't seem to fall from 28 goals and 42 assists a year ago to 17 goals and 37 assists despite playing in 10 fewer games (injury). Sure, the drop from 28 goals to 17 is a little alarming, but I think it's overshadowed a bit because of the way Schenn plays the game, and I think the physical nature and switching from center to left wing and back to center altered his game at times. Schenn lays it on the line each and every game, and I think, to a fault, it affected his offensive output this season, but that's the price he paid to sacrifice himself physically at 6-1, 200 pounds for the benefit of the team. Schenn is capable of 25-30 goals in a season but can't get there playing the way he did this season. So does he scale back in the physicality department to better his numbers and perhaps negatively affect the team goals? That's a tough call. That was particularly evident in the Winnipeg series when Schenn looked spent at times because he was throwing his weight around against the big, bruising Jets. But he helped make up one of the hottest lines in the NHL with O'Reilly and Tarasenko that helped the Blues go on a tear. Schenn, who finished the playoffs with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 26 games, has one year remaining on his contract before be can become an unrestricted free agent. He'll be 28 when the next season starts and still think some of his best hockey is ahead of him, and it'll be interesting to see if the Blues try and extend him or feel they can't afford him and trade him. In a perfect world, I say try and keep him, but in a salary-cap world, that option may not be viable. All-in-all, Schenn had a solid year but the number dropoff is the only thing that kept him from earning a higher grade. But at $5.125 million, numbers similar to what he had in 2017-18 is more to the liking. 
My grade: B+


Jaden Schwartz -- If Schwartz isn't another example of how the Blues' season went, I don't know who is. A guy who kept working his tail off couldn't buy a goal on the season; he had just 11 in 69 games, his lowest output in a full season. But Schwartz was able to turn it around and have 12 goals and 20 points in 26 playoff games, including two hat tricks (Game 6 vs. Winnipeg and Game 5 vs. San Jose). Never will there be a sentence typed in this space questioning Schwartz's work ethic. It's second-to-none, always has been. Teammates love him, coaches praise his style of play, and he'll always be the first in line to try and make teammates better. Schwartz has many times been mentioned in the same breath as the player that is the engine of a line, and none was more evident than helping fuel the line with Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko in the playoffs when that trip was assembled together again. But again, this is a results-oriented business, and is expected to produce more than the 36 points (25 assists) he had in the regular season. What's also surprising is Schwartz was a minus-6, the first time he's been a minus in a season since his rookie year (2012-13) when he was a minus-4. You can't say he didn't have chances though. His 183 shots are the most since 2014-15 (184), but the shooting percentage (six percent) left a lot to be desired. At 26, there's no reason to think Schwartz can't bounce back and have statistical numbers that mirror previous outputs of when he scored 28, 25 and 24 goals in 2017-18 along with points in the 50s or 60s, but his playoff helped boost his grade. With two years and a $5.35 million cap hit, he'll be given the chance to raise his numbers for sure.
My grade: B 


Alexander Steen -- After 14 seasons, including the past 10-plus with the Blues, Steen finally has his Stanley Cup, and it came in a completely different role than what he's used to playing. Steen has been a top-six skater in the Blues' lineup since his trade to St. Louis in 2009, but with the emergence of younger players and the Blues' addition of O'Reilly, Perron and Bozak, and Steen's lack of offensive production in the regular season (10 goals, 17 assists), he was relegated to a fourth line role and excelled as a defensive specialist/penalty killer. But let's face it, at $5.75 million, much more offensive production is needed for that amount of money spent on an aging player. Steen is 35, and his offensive production has fallen drastically. Since putting up a career-high 33 goals in 2013-14, Steen's goal production has fallen from 33 to 24 to 17 to 16 to 15 and to 10, and point production has fallen from a career-high 64 in 2014-15 to 52, 51, 46 and 27. The work Steen did with Sundqvist and Barbashev as a fourth line in the playoffs was terrific. That line matched up against the opposition's top line many times throughout a series and did so effectively, but let's face it, effective checkers/defensive skaters are a dime a dozen, and can come much more cheaper than $5.75 million. I'm not suggesting Steen's days are over, but he's being paid as a top-tiered player and one has to wonder if he'll be Armstrong's first buyout candidate with two years and $11.5 million remaining on his contract. Steen played in 65 regular-season games this season and also contributed five points (two goals, three assists) in 26 playoff games, but again, if we're strictly taking about dollars, the production is far below the expectations. From an effort standpoint, not even a question. The mileage and pounding simply catches up to everyone.
My grade: C+


Oskar Sundqvist -- This may be the story of the year for the Blues, and what a story Sundqvist is. Listen, I didn't even have this player pegged on the opening night roster, and with good reason (he nearly had his head decapitated by Washington's Tom Wilson during a preseason game). But I didn't even have Sundqvist on the opening night roster even before the injury; I had him destined for San Antonio, and perhaps back in St. Louis on recall when needed. He was the throw-in player from Pittsburgh in a trade with the Penguins on draft night in 2017 that sent Ryan Reaves to the defending Stanley Cup champs and brought the Blues a No. 1 pick, which turned into Klim Kostin. Sundqvist came into the season with 70 NHL regular-season games' worth of experience; he had two goals and seven assists. It was an important off-season for Sundqvist, and not only did he take advantage of it, he seized the moment. Once he returned from concussion on Oct. 25, Sundqvist never relinquished his spot in the lineup. He finished with 74 games and a career-high in goals (14), assists (17) and points (31) playing a variety of roles, from top-six duties, to centering whatever line needed him, to settling in as the fourth-line center with Steen and Barbashev. He was a tremendous penalty killer and defensive specialist, one Berube didn't hesitate to use late in games protecting one-goal games. Sundqvist, who had nine points (four goals, five assists) in 25 playoff games, became a huge piece. Where would the Blues have finished without the 25-year-old Sundqvist's contributions? Seriously. Another restricted free agent that will get a nice pay raise, and deservedly so. 
My grade: A+


Vladimir Tarasenko -- Since he was drafted by the Blues in the first round in 2010, Tarasenko has been labeled as the Blues' star. This has been their go-to guy, the one looked upon when a goal was needed, No. 91 needed to provide it. Tarasenko matched his goal output (33) this season in 76 regular-season games that he had last season in 80 games, but had two more points (68) this season. He would go through stretches where the puck wasn't going in, then heat up in a flash. Even though Tarasenko has reached 40 goals once (2015-16) in his career, I maintain he's a 40-plus goal guy who has the potential to reach 50, plus 80-90 points. At 27, he's entering the prime years of his career, and when these playoffs started, there was a sense that it would end in more disappointment because Tarasenko seemed in and out of a lot of the games. But after Game 1 of the conference final against San Jose, Berube reached his star like no other coach before him has, and the Blues' version of the Russian Rocket wasn't going to be labeled as simply a scoring factor. His game became more well-rounded, playing more of a checking game, being responsible defensively and doing whatever was necessary to help the team win; he finished with 17 points (11 goals, six assists) in 26 playoff games, and as long as Tarasenko was willing to put the work in, the offense would come, and it did. He had an eight-game point streak during the playoffs, including three goals and an assist against the Bruins in the Cup Final. Listen, Tarasenko can be a game-changer; he should be a game-changer. Once fans see that on a more consistent basis, the love for him will grow even bigger. It's going to be critical moving forward. 
My grade: B+


Robert Thomas -- Welcome to the NHL, Robert Thomas, a 19-year-old who was given the responsibilities to jump right into the big leagues with with no minor hockey experience. That's how highly the Blues thought of their first round pick in 2017. The Blues had the option of keeping Thomas around for nine games, then sending him down, but he would have had to go back to juniors, and Armstrong maintained Thomas had nothing to prove by going back to junior hockey. He would play in 70 regular-season games (nine goals, 24 assists), then had a goal and five assists in 21 playoff games that was hampered by a left wrist injury. With Thomas, we saw flashes of what he can be. When he was confident and at his best, he was poised with the puck and making plays. What he's going to have to shake, and he will, was his insistence to defer to veterans on the ice. Just think how many more goals Thomas could have scored if he wasn't deferring shooting the puck? But he's still a teenager and will learn. A natural center iceman, Thomas learned to play right wing, and eventually developed great chemistry with Bozak and Maroon to help form one of the more well-rounded, more consistent puck-possessing lines during the playoffs. The game that stands out to be is Game 7 against the Stars. Thomas had his fingerprints all over that game and was a dominant factor in it, and rightfully so, helped create Maroon's game-winner and send the Blues to the conference final. Thomas was unfortunately not healthy at the end of the postseason, but the Blues were able to persevere without him, but this player will be a centerpiece for this franchise for the next decade or so, and the upside is promising once he realizes how good he is and once he puts on a few more lbs to help him protect pucks more. But imagine being a 19-year-old and already in possession of a world junior championship, two OHL titles, a Memorial Cup and now a Stanley Cup before turning 20. Impressive resume to say the least.
My grade: B


Chris Thorburn -- What in the world am I doing grading a guy who played a grand total of 1:52 in the NHL this season? Well, I'm doing this one for sentimental reasons. Yes, the 36-year-old Thorburn was hardly even a blip on the Blues' radar this season; he spent practically the entire season in San Antonio (two goals, five assists in 24 games). But that's what impressed me the most, was his willingness to up and move himself to Texas while his wife and autistic son stayed in St. Louis to receive the best of care and lifestyle. That had to be the hardest decision for Thorburn to make, and the Blues were gracious enough to accommodate him in moving back and forth to juggle his personal and professional lifestyle. It had to be hard to life that life being away from his son for so long at this stage of Thorburn's career. The Blues are to be commended for bringing Thorburn up during the playoffs, allowing him to be with teammates and family during this run, something that had to ease the mind of the 14-year veteran. And to have Thorburn on the ice as the Blues won the Cup, getting to raise it for the first time in his career was a special moment. Thorburn wasn't a factor for the Blues on the ice, but he sure was one off it. Teammates love him, and understandable why. 
My grade: honorary A


Nikita Soshinkov -- It was another injury-plagued year for Soshnikov, who played in just five games for the Blues this season and 17 total since he was acquired from Toronto in 2018 for a fourth-round pick this year. Soshnikov dealt with concussion issues and a shoulder injury before playing just 11 games with the Rampage this season (three goals, three assists). There was always upside with Soshnikov's play, but injuries could never keep him on the ice, and players passed him up on the depth chart. He's a restricted free agent and property of the Blues when he returns to the NHL, if he ever does, but recently signed with Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.   
My grade: incomplete


Defensemen:

Robert Bortuzzo -- When assessing the play of a third-pairing defenseman, the less you talk about them, the better. In the case of Bortuzzo, the chatter wasn't as noticeable, which made for a pretty solid season. Bortuzzo was the perfect player when the Blues needed some sandpaper on the back end with a little grit, even though at times he would cross the line when it wasn't needed. But this is Bortuzzo, who has a bit of a temper to his game. But the one thing about Bortuzzo, who played in 59 regular-season games (two goals, eight assists), is when he was good, he was really good, and when he was not good, it was noticeable. That's why in his case, the less you talked about him, the better. He had his struggles in the series against the Stars, a higher up-tempo team. An area I thought Bortuzzo excelled in this season was his penalty kill. He was always really sound positionally and wasn't afraid to block shots and sacrifice himself physically for the better of the PK. Speed wasn't one of Bortuzzo's top traits, and there were times when he was exposed by fast skaters. Bortuzzo played in 17 of the Blues' 26 playoff games and had two goals, but not just any two goals, two really big goals, in Game 2 against San Jose and Game 2 against the Bruins. Bortuzzo is signed on for the next three seasons at $1.375 million, a good number for a guy that can give you 12-14 minutes a night.     
My grade: B


Jay Bouwmeester -- Arguably one of the greatest turnarounds in NHL history. Bouwmeester seemed destined to being a trade candidate when things were doom and gloom for the Blues to a potential waiver candidate, someone who was a healthy scratch four times this season, they were tough times for the 35-year-old Bouwmeester, who was coming off major off-season hip surgery. But therein lied the problem. Bouwmeester obviously wasn't ready to return to top form, and it showed in his play. The reliable smooth-skater was vulnerable, and if Bouwmeester didn't have his skating that allowed him to be responsibly good with his stick and positionally sound, he would be susceptible to mistakes. But Bouwmeester finally got healthy, finally looked like his pre-hip surgery self and wow, did he form one of the top shutdown defensive pairings with Colton Parayko in the second half of the season and in the playoffs. Bouwmeester, who had seven assists in 26 playoff games, led all skaters in ice time in the Cup Final in Game 5 (29:08) and Game 7 (28:34). His speed was back, his effortless skating was on par and his fundamentally sound positioning was second to none. Bouwmeester was to be a UFA but re-upped for one year next season at a very affordable $3.25 million and if he plays anything like he did the second half and in the playoffs, this will be a steal of a deal. It's an incredible turnaround and he finally raised the Cup for the first time in 16 seasons.   
My grade: B+


Chris Butler -- The St. Louis native played in just 13 games this regular season (one goal, one assist) and was needed when injuries were hampering the Blues in December. A consummate professional, Butler was part of his first Cup being one of the extra, extras in the playoffs. He's played in just 25 NHL games the past four seasons but has been a terrific captain for the Blues' minor leaguers in San Antonio the past two seasons. With such a little body of work in the NHL, hard to justify a grade here.
My grade: incomplete


Michael Del Zotto -- Del Zotto was acquired at the NHL trade deadline to give the Blues added depth on the blue line and got into seven regular-season games (three assists). He always kept himself ready if needed in the playoffs, but with the Blues being seven-deep on the back end, Del Zotto was the eighth option and wasn't needed. Being a part of the first Stanley Cup-winning organization had to be a thrill, but it's all but certain Del Zotto will land elsewhere this summer when he becomes a UFA on July 1.
My grade: incomplete


Vince Dunn -- The super sophomore improved on his offensive stats with career-highs in goals (12), assists (23) and points in 78 games after 5-19=24 in 75 games his rookie season. Dunn finished a plus-14 and four of his goals were game-winners. The offensive upside continues to show in Dunn's game. He's become a go-to guy as a power-play quarterback, and his quick release from the point continues to provide offense through redirections or screens. His puck movement in transitioning pucks from the defensive zone is as good as anyone on the back end. He's still 23, and he's still growing his game in the defensive zone, but it does need work. Clean exits haven't always been there, and that's because Dunn is a bit of a daredevil. He likes to take risks, and sometimes those risks turned into mistakes. But that's the chance you take with a kid that's got a penchant for being offensive-minded. Focusing solely on defensive responsibilities will come to Dunn as he gets older, but for now, the Blues will keep working with making him a well-rounded player and will do so on a very team-friendly contract ($722,500 on the final year of an entry-level contract). The upside is intriguing and the glimpses we've seen favorable. Dunn, who sustained a broken jaw in Game 3 against the Sharks and missed six games, finished with eight points (two goals, six assists) in 20 games, including a big first goal in Game 7 against Dallas in the second round. While there is work to do with Dunn on the defensive end, I really like the upside. 
My grade: B+


Joel Edmundson -- When Edmundson signed a one-year, $3 million bridge contract last summer in a prove-it type of deal, I thought this might be his breakout season and he'd be due for a big raise and larger term contract this summer. But Edmundson had what I call a roller-coaster season this year, his fourth in the NHL. While I still think there's upside in the soon-to-be 26-year-old's game, I was expecting to see more of that next step this year, especially offensively. But Edmundson, who played in 64 regular-season games and 22 more in the playoffs, fell to two goals and 11 points in the regular-season after seven goals and 10 assists the previous season. Edmundson, who had a goal and seven points in the playoffs, was a healthy scratch in the postseason twice, but that's the luxury that Berube had in case he wasn't getting maximum performances from his blue liners. When Edmundson is on, he's physical, he's knocking you off the puck, he's playing with a mean edge and very reliable for his partner. There was pressure on him to perform up to par, especially when he was playing top pairing minutes with Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko until Parayko was paired permanently with Bouwmeester. I think Edmundson's best course of action is to take another short-term contract this summer, another prove-it-type deal. He has another chance to do so because I don't think he did himself any favors going into this negotiation. I still think there's upside there, I was hoping to see more of it this season. I still think he can be in the long term plans of the organization, and a championship under his belt now should help him get there. 
My grade: C+


Carl Gunnarsson -- It was an injury-plagued season for Gunnarsson, who much like Bouwmeester was recovering from a serious off-season surgery (torn ACL), then dealt with multiple wrist injuries throughout the regular-season. Gunnarsson played in just 25 games, the fewest of his 10-year career and finished with seven points (three goals, four assists), just two points less than what Gunnarsson had in 63 games and 38 fewer games last season. Gunnarsson had a goal and two assists in 19 playoff games, and his goal will go down in Blues history as the first Stanley Cup-winning goal in a 3-2 overtime win in Game 2. The thing about Gunnarsson is when he played, he was as steady-solid as can be. He's probably the one guy I talked about so little because he was so smooth in his game. He didn't make many mistakes, was always a good support for whoever his partner was and made good decisions with and without the puck. Gunnarsson's biggest issue was staying healthy, and that's a part of it all. I liked what he brought to the table. Gunnarsson becomes a UFA on July 1 and is likely destined for a bigger, higher-pay day. It's not a guarantee he will be among the top six moving forward, and with the Blues needing to give other RFA's more money, Gunnarsson is likely to be on the outs and moving on. Somebody can certainly use his services, including the Blues. I just don't see the figures working. 
My grade: B


Colton Parayko -- Rumors were swirling like a raging tornado last summer and fall when it came to Parayko, and with good reason. But as I maintained in this space, and was told a number of times, Parayko was going nowhere, and the Blues are quite happy to have the big fella. Parayko established a career-high in goals with 10, but his point production slipped from 35 the previous season to 28 this past season, his lowest in four seasons, but his plus/minus improved from minus-7 to plus-20, and playing in a more shutdown role with Bouwmeester certainly bolstered his overall game. Parayko is the best puck-transitioner on the Blues and at times, does it so effortlessly. Having a long stick and being positionally sound in the d-zone were two areas I thought Parayko improved immensely at, and it showed especially in the playoffs. Parayko had 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in 26 postseason games. Do I still think there's more for Parayko to offer? Yes, especially from the offensive side. I still think he needs to use that booming shot of his, and he has to be more accurate with it. He scored on 5.7 percent of his shots, which is a career-high, but a 3.9 percent career shooting percentage is not nearly good enough. Parayko can be used as a power-play quarterback but hasn't shown the consistency to run if on a regular basis. But at 26 and three more years with a $5.5 million cap hit, no wonder teams were calling Armstrong to see if Parayko was available. He's not. He's going nowhere.
My grade: B+


Alex Pietrangelo -- Pietrangelo will go down as the first captain in Blues history to hoist the Cup, and that says something. Although his point production slipped from 54 to 41 this past season, Pietrangelo reached double digits in goals (12) for the third straight year and fifth time in his nine full seasons. He played with multiple partners this season but it didn't matter. The Blues' top minutes man at 24:05 gets a lot of criticism from fans, and at times it's warranted since he does play so many minutes, and I've been critical of him a number of times because of puck errors and mismanagement, but I will say that I saw arguably the best game he's played as a pro in Game 4 against the Bruins when he logged a game-high 29:37, had two assists and was a plus-3 in the game. Pietrangelo had 11 breakouts from the Blues' defensive zone, and 10 of them were clean, which is nearly spotless. I guess to a fault, I almost expect perfection out of Pietrangelo, but he's got that capability. He's logged a lot of responsibility guiding this team and holding things together while they finally began to put things in place in January. In the playoffs, Pietrangelo had a really good run with 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) in 26 games; I didn't think he had a good series against the Sharks after playing well against the Jets and Stars but rebounded nicely against the Bruins with six points in the final four games. I hold the captain to high standards and deservedly so. Sure, he made mistakes throughout the season, but when all was said and done, the top objective was accomplished and he had plenty to do with it.  
My grade: A-


Jordan Schmaltz -- A first round pick in 2012, Schmaltz should alredy be an established defenseman in the NHL, but in three seasons, including 20 games this season, Schmaltz has played a total of 42 games; that's it. He has yet to score, has only five assists and has seen the likes of Dunn, Edmundson, Parayko and even Mitch Reinke, who was called up as a Black Ace ahead of Schmaltz, pass him on the depth chart. It's going to be tough sledding for Schmaltz, who was a minus-7 in his 20 games with the Blues last season, to find a spot on this team moving forward, but he does have one year remaining on a contract that pays $700,000. I believe the Blues have given Schmaltz every opportunity to seize a job but he just hasn't done it, and I'm not sure he ever will here.
My grade: incomplete


Jakub Jerabek -- Well, this will be short and sweet. Jerabek played in one game for the Blues after they acquired him from Edmonton for a 2020 sixth-round pick. He played 7:52 in a 7-2 loss to Calgary on Oct. 11 and was a minus-3, then played in 52 games for the Rampage with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) but has since moved to Vityaz Podolsk of the KHL and will play in his native Czech Republic next season.
My grade: incomplete


Goalies:

Jordan Binnington -- If the Sundqvist story didn't get you, this one will. Sundqvist may be the story of the year for the Blues, but this is the Cinderella story of the century. Coming into the season, Binnington was not even on the Blues' radar. He was behind Jake Allen, Chad Johnson and Ville Husso. Binnington, who spent past season with Boston's AHL affiliate in Providence, of all places, was having a hard time getting games with the Rampage. But once he did, he was 11-4-0 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. Then he got summoned up to the Blues, made his first NHL start on Jan. 7 against Philadelphia and never looked back. After shutting out the Flyers 3-0, Binnington was 24-5-1 with a league-leading 1.89 GAA and .927 save percentage and eventually took over the reigns for Allen and led the Blues to their first Stanley Cup championship and setting all sorts of records along the way. Binnington was an incredible 14-2 after losses, including 6-0 in the regular-season. The guy was cool as a cucumber and by his own question when asked early in his tenure, never looked nervous in guiding the Blues. Binnington had a few games sprinkled in when he looked vulnerable at times, but what goalie is going to be perfect every time? Those vulnerabilities were far and few in between. And being a RFA this summer coming off a very modest $650,000 salary, the Blues can go one of two ways here: offer a short-term bridge contract, a sort of keep-establishing-yourself contract and earn a big payday down the road, or pay him now and bank on that this amazing run can continue over the long haul. If I'm Binnington, I want that now, of course. If I'm the Blues, I go with a two-year contract, say, for tripling the salary at $1.5-$2 million per season because with goalies, you just don't know if this is sustainable. But knowing Binnington, he'd take this challenge and slam it shut and earn his money. He has the right frame of mind for how to play the position, I love his willingness to challenge shooters and his rebound control, for the most part, is pretty impeccable. Puck handling can use some work, but the way the soon-to-be 26-year-old 2011 third-round pick came in and helped save the season for the Blues will go down in franchise lore forever.   
My grade: A+


Jake Allen -- I know where a lot of Blues fans want me to go with this one, but it's not going to happen. Yes, Allen was given another chance to grab the No. 1 job and run with it and for the third straight season, his ups and downs were quite noticeable. My experiences watching Allen has been when he's good, he's very good, and when he's bad, he's really bad. There's not many in-betweens with Allen, and his 2018-19 season as the No. 1 was defined with a 3-1 loss to Dallas the night after Binnington made his first NHL start when he allowed three goals on 17 shots. But to Allen's credit, when Binnington took over and started gaining more starts and grabbed the No. 1 spot, Allen took his role in stride, and when called upon, he made solid starts -- all on the road -- and gave the Blues a solid 1-2 punch down the stretch that gave them a chance at winning the division; he was 5-3-4 with a 2.21 GAA and .927 save percentage. Allen finished 19-17-8, the fewest wins he's had since his rookie season of 2012-13, with a 2.83 GAA and .905 save percentage, by today's standards, less than average GAA and save percentage. The numbers aren't awful, but they're not among the kinds of numbers top goalies should have. He made one relief appearance in the playoffs when Binnington was pulled in Game 3 of the Cup Final but that was all the action he saw as Binnington carried the cage. Allen still has two seasons left of a four-year, $17 million contract he signed on July 1, 2016, a cap hit of $4.35 million, and in his situation, he's getting paid well but would go into next season as the backup and would form a solid 1-2 duo with Binnington. But is that what he wants? Time will tell. I believe if Allen asks the Blues to explore a trade for him to try and get a fresh start at challenging for a No. 1 spot, they could certainly accommodate him. Allen will be 29 by the start of next season, which is still prime age for a goalie, so one couldn't blame him for wanting to challenge for a spot elsewhere, but the Blues may not find any takers, which would bring him back here, and that wouldn't be a bad insurance policy either. I liked how Allen rebounded and gracefully kept working knowing Binnington took over the No. 1 role. It seems Allen is at his best when someone else is there pushing him, as was the case with Brian Elliott before, and Jaroslav Halak. His season wasn't great, but it wasn't a disaster either. 
My grade: B-


Chad Johnson -- Johnson was not called in to be a savior for the Blues last season. Armstrong just needed a solid backup to Allen to make a spot start here and there to keep things afloat. But Johnson was put on waivers after going just 2-6-0 with a 3.55 GAA and .884 save percentage in 10 appearances with the Blues before being picked up by Anaheim, which needed a goalie at the time due to the injury to former Blue Ryan Miller. Johnson's two wins with the Blues were both pretty spectacular, a 4-1 win over Carolina on Nov. 6 followed by a 4-0 shutout win over San Jose three nights later, but that was it. To say Johnson struggled when he lost is a bit unfair considering the team was playing so poorly at the time, but other than the wins over the Hurricanes and Sharks, Johnson really didn't have any of those stealing-a-game type of effort to help his cause, and when Binnington came onto the scene, well, it was pretty easy who had to go. Johnson signed a low-risk $1.75 million contract that the Ducks took on.
My grade: D


GM/HEAD COACH:

Doug Armstrong -- It took guts for Armstrong to do what he did: stand pat when the Blues were floundering after he filled the salary cap and made the Blues a cap team before stumbling out of the gates. He gave this group a chance and they paid off with a walk-off grand slam, winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup. It started well when Armstrong got busy and signed Bozak and Perron to free-agent contracts, then hit the biggest off-season home run by trading away castoff forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and young forward Tage Thompson along with a No. 1 pick in this year's draft and a 2021 second-round pick for O'Reilly but didn't settle there. He brought home Maroon one-year, $1.75 million contract to give the Blues depth down the middle of the ice and veteran experience up front throughout. And when the Blues didn't come out with the vigor everyone expected, he fired Mike Yeo 19 games into the season in hopes of sending a jolt in the locker room. It didn't work right away, but Berube finally got the room straightened out, and good thing Armstrong was in Russia on a prospects trip at the time, because it didn't give him any thoughts of blowing things up. All the big names (Tarasenko, Schenn, Pietrangelo) were named being dropped out there in trade rumors, but Armstrong was determined to give the last thread one more opportunity of solidifying itself, and that thread continued to gain ground, put the Blues in the playoffs and then went 16-10 in winning the Cup. Had the early-season disaster continued, Armstrong's job would have been in jeopardy, so for him to stay the course knowing that after already missing the playoffs the previous season, ownership likely wouldn't stand for another omission, had to take a lot of resolve to stay the course. It may go down as Armstrong's best decision of his executive life, through all the hits and misses of trades and free-agent signings and misses. Sometimes the decisions you choose not to make wind up being the best decisions in fact you do make, and in this case, it certainly was. Full marks for Armstrong by, first, being determined to make this roster better and knowing what the deficiencies were after missing the playoffs, then serving notice that what was happening would not be accepted and putting a new voice in the room, and finally, saying to the players he'd allow them one more chance to right the ship. Did they ever, and the GM should be commended for it.  
My grade: A


Craig Berube -- The man known to everyone as 'Chief' had a challenge on his hands, but one he was obviously ready to tackle. Nineteen games into what was already a head-scratching start to what was supposed to be a season in which the Blues were going to be relevant again, Berube was thrust into the role of head coach after being Yeo's associate. He already had a leg up on working with the roster because of his familiarity with them, but it wasn't all roses for Berube at the outset. He was 10-11-1 in his first 22 games before the Blues started gaining traction on Jan. 10 to begin a three-game winning streak, then start an 11-game winning streak on Jan. 23. Berube is known as a player's coach who communicates well with the players and offers tough love no matter if you're a veteran, a young guy or rookie. He's a straight shooter and one who doesn't pull any punches. Players responded to him, they played for him and most importantly, what every coach needs, they played for each other. With the help of assistants MIke Van Ryn, Steve Ott, Sean Ferrell and David Alexander, Berube and the coaching staff galvanized a roster into adapting an us-against-the-world mentality and took them on an unprecedented ride from worst-to-first. Berube has held the interim tag throughout the season, but it's safe to say, he's not only going to get paid, but get the job on a permanent basis. 
My grade: A


TRAINERS/EQUIPMENT

Eric Renaghan (strength and conditioning coach) -- These are the behind-the-scenes guys, the ones that nobody hears about but deserve just as much credit as those that get the spotlight, and Reneghan and those that work with him deserve much praise. The Blues played 26 postseason games, on top of the six preseason and 82 regular-season games this year for a total of 114 games. For them to play the kind of style they needed to play, someone needed to be the hands-on person to keep these players in the fittest shape possible and keep them mentally stable after punishing their bodies on a nightly basis. The Blues' way of playing, which required plenty of checking, hard-hitting and absorbing physical punishment themselves, required someone to keep these guys working day in, day out. Renaghan has been doing this since he was brought to St. Louis in 2016. Teaching the methods of recovery as well as the rigorous training do hand-in-hand, and the work was evident in each playoff round when the Blues got better as each series moved along despite the bruising way they played. It's not easy telling athletes to go out and batter and bruise their bodies every day, but someone has to do it, and channel that message in the right way. The fullest of marks here, and recognition well-deserved.
My grade: A+

Joel Farnsworth (head equipment manager) -- Farnsworth, Rich Matthews (assistant equipment manager) and Andrew Dvorak (equipment assistant) are the ones I say never sleep. These are the guys that fix a broken skate in seconds, replace broken sticks in games on the fly, put up and take down equipment after games and practices, have whatever supplement drinks ready for players at their lockers, load and unload hundreds of pounds of equipment every day from one city and venue to another, doing so at all hours of the night just to make sure the players are properly equipped wherever they are. They're the ones sharpening skates on gamedays or whenever necessary at the rink while nobody else is around, fixing equipment, taking care of equipment. I see what these guys do every day; you fans don't, so I thought I'd also include them and give you a small glimpse of what their lives are like. So when you see those lifting the Cup and smiling as much as the players are and you wonder who was that, now you know. 
My grade: A+